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How Long is Medical School?

By Cait Williams

Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Updated: November 29th, 2023
How Long is Medical School?

If you’ve ever thought about becoming a doctor, there’s no doubt that the first question you probably asked yourself was how long med school is. In this article, we’ll map out what the process of attending medical school looks like. After reading, you should have the necessary facts and a pretty good understanding of the timetable involved. Let’s get started!

Before medical school

The first step to attending medical school is to obtain your undergraduate degree. Your undergraduate degree does not have to be in any specific area of study. However, you will need to complete your undergraduate degree and take the MCAT in order to be accepted into medical school. 

If you’re curious what classes you need to take to attend medical school or what some of the top scholarships for medical students are, our website has all of that and more! 

Years one & two (pre-clinical)

The first two years of medical school focus on classroom and laboratory learning. During this time, you will establish a firm foundation in courses like anatomy and physiology, chemistry, pharmacology, and biology. You’ll also learn how to interview patients and the various areas of medicine you can specialize in. 

How your classes are structured will vary depending on which medical school you attend. Some medical schools will focus on one topic at a time for short periods instead of studying many topics at once.

Related: Medical intern vs. resident: What’s the difference?

Year three & four (clinical) 

For those who are more hands-on learners, years three and four of medical school may be a bit more enjoyable. During these years you will work with real patients in a professional medical setting. 

Again, similar to classes, how your clinical rotations work depends on the medical school that you attend. They will typically be divided into short rotations that take you through a variety of specialties. During these rotations, you will get hands-on experience that can help you decide which residencies you might  like to apply to. 

During your last year of medical school, you will begin to apply to medical residencies and pass important examinations that will help determine what steps will come after medical school. 

After medical school (residency)

Congrats! You’ve graduated medical school, and now you’re looking ahead to your next step: residency! Unlike undergrad and medical school though, residency does not take the same amount of time for everyone. 

Depending on what specialty you choose, residency can take anywhere from three to seven years to complete. Medical students apply to various residency programs during their senior year of medical school. 

 During year one of residency, you will be considered an intern, as well as a PGY-1, which stands for “post-graduate year one.” After year one of your residency, you will officially be a resident. During this time, you will work directly with patients to treat and diagnose real health concerns.  

After you’ve completed a medical residency, you are all done (sort of). Residents do have the option to complete an additional year of training in their specialty after residency. This is called a fellowship. Whether or not you choose to complete a fellowship though, doesn’t mean your education ends. Doctors are lifetime students and medicine is an area that is always evolving!

Testing: The United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE)

The USMLE is a three-step exam that you will take throughout your medical training. The following is a breakdown of what to expect at each step of the way.

USMLE step 1

Step one of the exam is taken after the first two years of medical school are completed. This exam focuses on questions that apply to the basic concepts learned in classes all the way to medical scenarios. The test takes place in one day over an eight hour period, and is divided into seven 60 minute blocks. 

USMLE step 2

Step two of the USMLE will be taken after the completion of years three and four of medical school. This portion of the USMLE asks questions to see how well students apply their knowledge to clinical situations. It is structured the same way as step one, but has one additional hour long section. 

USMLE step 3

The final step of the USMLE is a two day exam that is taken after completing one year of postgraduate medical training. This exam includes a format like the first two as well as a section that requires you to go through case simulations. After completing and passing this exam, you will be fully qualified to independently practice medicine in the United States! 

Allopathic vs. osteopathic

While looking into medical school, you may have come across the terms “allopathic” and “osteopathic.” So real quick, let’s define them each. Allopathic refers to the traditional use of medicine to treat the human body. It is most commonly used when talking about traditional MD programs.

Osteopathic refers to the use of more holistic methods to treat the human body. Doctors of osteopathic medicine attend accredited DO programs that function the same as MD programs, but with different curriculum. 

See also: What is a DO Medical Degree?

Closing thoughts

Now that you know how long med school is, it’s time to take stock of your options. From undergrad to completing your residency, becoming a doctor can take anywhere from eleven to fifteen years. However, those numbers shouldn’t be something that discourages you. As we said before, being a student is a lifelong commitment to learning. So, you should be comfortable with the idea of being a student and always learning new things.

School is a rewarding experience where you’ll meet people, discover more about yourself, and grow as a person. Keep those things in mind as well when you’re asking questions about medical school. If this is something you want, rest assured that, while it might be daunting, it is attainable!

Frequently asked questions

Can I become a doctor at 30?

30 is more of an arbitrary number than anything. You can become a doctor at any age! Going to medical school is a big decision, one that you may not be sure about right away. If you are thinking about going to medical school, don’t let age be something that stops you!

How stressful is medical school?

It’s no lie that medical school can be a stressful endeavor. However, it’s not all endless studying, impossible exams, and difficult professors. Medical school is like any other pursuit of higher education. It takes dedication to be a student, but also understanding that there is more to life than school. 

What age do most people become doctors?

Most people will graduate from undergrad at the age of 22 and then go on to medical school and graduate by 26. After completing a residency, the average age of a first time practicing physician is between 29 and 33 years old. However, that is only a rough estimate, so if your age does not line up with that, that is more than okay. 

When do you officially become a doctor?

After you have completed undergrad and medical school, you are officially a doctor! However, there are still exams and certifications you will have to complete in order to be a fully licensed physician who can practice within the United States.   

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